From Monday, October 8 to Thursday the 11th, I had the opportunity to spend some time at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University – better known as Virginia Tech.
The chance to see this campus from the heart of one of their ministries, to attend a forum conducted by a renowned Christian scholar, and now to write about God’s work there is indeed “an extraordinary privilege but a fearsome one.” I can not capture what I felt during my time there, let alone their experience in the midst of and following last semester’s tragedy. But maybe I can give a hint of what God is up to there, as we all process His work in the midst of pain and death and evil.
I’ll start with describing the forum briefly in this post and providing some links to more. In the next few days, I hope to discuss both the past (how God worked within the tragedy) and the future (what I learned about our responses to tragedy – both in our fields and in others’). You can catch up on what I’ve written earlier about my visit here and here – I’ll try not to repeat that info now.
The “extraordinary privilege but a fearsome one” line was how Ravi Zacharias opened the forum on Tuesday night, and from the beginning, his respect for Virginia Tech was extremely appreciated there. This was not an overbearing apologist, using enormous suffering as a backdrop for prepackaged proclamation – that was clear. Instead, woven through his messages was both a real tenderness toward a still-hurting campus and a helpful indignation toward the “desacralizing of human life” that happened last April.
Ravi gave no “easy answers,” nor did he try to. In fact, he derided Job’s friends for doing just that – as Job was the centerpiece story of Part 1, offered Tuesday night to a mostly student-and-faculty-only audience. The second night, in front of a larger audience, the stated aim was to approach some answers in light of the tragedy.
Ravi noted that when speaking of these questions – why a good God would allow this act, why such evil can exist, and so on – there is an underlying question about purpose. This was the subject of Part 2, discussing the truth that there are ultimate purposes at play, and that our ultimate purpose in life lies in the realm of worship.
One overall reflection: I think there are moments in response to tragedy – not necessarily immediately, but eventually – when brilliance is a balm of its own. Whether each Va. Tech student (or the rest of us) could hang with every word of this scholarly discussion may not matter – we gain encouragement sometimes from knowing that somebody has brilliant answers to suggest. One listener might only cling to a few stories in the span of an entire 2-part message, another to a pithy statement or wise analogy, another to several seasoned and technical arguments. Regardless of our ability to process it all, Ravi gave each of us a breadth of depth, and in so doing built a bulwark of hope.
The crowds were generally Christian ones, it seemed, through there could have been plenty of unbelievers or doubters in the audiences, too. There weren’t many feisty questions when time was given for those; one of the feistiest, reflecting on a person’s turn from Christianity to atheism, turned out to have been asked for someone else. Yet I know the ministries did get some response cards back, and furthermore I shouldn’t forget that Christians hurt, too, and need encouragement like this. And finally, answers given to Christians can be harnessed in further discussions and relationships for months and lifetimes.
It would be impossible to do real justice to two messages that were quite intelligent, intricate, and yet at the same time more “scholarly reflections” than a systematic presentation. Hopefully, the mp3s will be up soon, and I’ll let you know. Definitely worth listening to.
If you’re interested in a good amount more – including more details on the event, how God brought Ravi to Virginia Tech at this time, and photos from the event, I’ve linked those below. No need to reproduce here what you can find there.
“Virginia Tech audience hears Christian speaker” – article from The Roanoke Times.
Renowned theologian speaks to campus – article from Va. Tech’s Collegiate Times
Problem of Evil – a You Tube video of Ravi answering one of the questions at Virginia Tech
Ravi Zacharias’s written essay – response to the Va. Tech shootings